TMP Examines What Fosters and Sustains Innovation at R&D Companies
What can the research and development arms of leading pharmaceutical, oil and gas, energy, agricultural and defense companies learn from one another? What drives and sustains innovation in R&D industries across different sectors? What organizational, cultural and behavioral elements foster—or constrain—innovation?
These are a few of the key questions that form the focus of the Team Master's Project (TMP) sponsored this year by pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company and advised by Joel West, PhD, professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at Keck Graduate Institute.
"There are a lot of books on innovation, but not much attention has been paid to the behavioral and cultural elements of sustaining innovation," says Carlos O. Garner, senior director of global regulatory affairs at Eli Lilly, who—along with Jamie Dananberg, Lilly's vice president of translational medicine—is overseeing the team on the client side.
The student team of Cijian Feng, Selena Gunggavakin, Ryan McComb and Durgalaxmi Ramachandhiramani engaged early on with the Industrial Research Institute (IRI), a forum where R&D companies such as Lilly collaborate on innovation processes. Garner and McComb led the recruitment effort, traveling to IRI's fall Members Summit in New Orleans to enlist organizations from a variety of sectors to participate in the study.
The students also benefited from training in how to gather and analyze qualitative data from San Francisco-based IDEO, which helps organizations build the systems and culture to sustain innovation and launch new ventures, and which is a longstanding Lilly collaborator. "One of the strengths of the IDEO methodology is to learn how to look through the lens of the innovator and gain an in-depth personal perspective of how innovation happens," adds McComb.
In November, the KGI team traveled to Lilly headquarters in Indianapolis, where they conducted 16 interviews with senior scientists and R&D executives over three days. This spring they will interview representatives of other organizations that have agreed to participate in the study, including Exxon Mobil and Monsanto.
"This partnership has been powerful," says Garner. "We had been working with a consultant on this topic, but felt that having the perspective of students and young professionals, who are without bias, could provide a different perspective."
This is Lilly's second TMP sponsorship. Garner adds that the KGI students are "enthusiastic and extremely competent. We have been very impressed with their learning agility, and they are doing a spectacular job pulling together information and interfacing with a complex group of stakeholders and sponsors."
The students note that the project is logistically complicated, requiring frequent meetings and constant collaboration among team members, as well as time management skills. Other key challenges include the difficulty of convincing companies to participate and then maintaining confidential information while sharing insights from the study.
Deliverables will include a comprehensive report to Lilly, as well as other participating companies. Garner says Lilly will use the knowledge gleaned from the study for benchmarking and reflecting on the company's strengths and where it has opportunities to improve. A shorter, less proprietary version of the findings will be shared at the IRI annual meeting in May, and will be distributed even more widely in the form of an article by the students to be published in IRI's Research Technology Management journal.